'Frustrated captain' revels in new role

Mike Brearley wrote a book about it, but Shane Warne would argue it's all stored up in his head. The art of captaincy is cricket's holy grail, and Warne has done little in this tournament so far to suggest that he isn't as close to anyone still playing the game to getting his hands on it. The victory in Bangalore was the unfancied Rajasthan Royals' third in a row after losing to Delhi a week ago, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that Warne is at the epicentre of most of the good things his team has done.

At the eve-of-match press conference, Rajasthan's assistant coach Darren Berry explained that his old mucker had only agreed to captain the side if he had sole charge. In other words, Warne - technically the captain/coach - did not want a coach around to complicate matters. "I don't need a computer," he said in Hyderabad the other day in what - like so many of his utterances - was a thinly veiled dig at his former Australian coach John Buchanan.

Berry is here to supervise training and Jeremy Snape, the former England one-day offspinner with a masters degree in psychology, lends a hand. But both men know who is in charge. And tonight Warne repeated his credo in more graphic detail. "I don't need a computer, or 15 pages of notes or 25 meetings, which is what I've been used to," he said. "I think the boys have been enjoying the more relaxed set-up."

They certainly are, and Friday's press conference provided another telling snippet. Dinesh Salunkhe, the unknown legspinner who is playing here only because he was runner-up in a cricket talent show, explained how, when he was nervous about coming on to bowl against Mahela Jayawardene of the Kings XI Punjab on Monday, Warne told him to be a man, stick his chest out and believe in himself. It might sound rudimentary, but Warne instinctively understands the importance of inner strength. Jayawardene was stumped for two.

Tonight, Warne's own inner strength shone through in his first over. Mark Boucher defended his first ball, before missing attempted sweeps at the next two. The first of them brought an lbw shout that was more an enquiry by Warne's standards, but the second elicited a full-on, both-arms-raised scream which was followed just as inevitably by a look of disbelief and hands on hips after Ian Howell made it clear his finger would not be going up any time soon.

Of course, it was all part of the act. The next ball was a googly. Boucher drove at it, got a thick edge onto his pads and watched in horror as the ball ballooned up in the leg side and Mahesh Rawat moved smartly from behind the stumps to take the catch. Two balls later Warne had bowled the IPL's second wicket-maiden, and soon after his figures were 2-1-2-1. Good captains lead by example too. Or, as the Man of the Match Shane Watson put it afterwards: "He's just leading from the front. He's getting the best out of everyone. Everyone knows their roles and they're executing them perfectly."

One of Warne's other great strengths as a leader is that his enthusiasm is contagious. When Sunil Joshi was awaiting the third umpire's decision following his hopelessly dawdling attempts to regain his ground after trying to pinch a single, Warne - the bowler at the time - was walking around raising his finger and nodding his head. It has been written elsewhere that wickets validate Warne. It seems wickets for a Twenty20 team that did not even exist until recently validate him just as much as the Test-match variety. No one has claimed more than his six in the IPL so far.

It's tempting to see thrifty Rajasthan's success in this competition as some kind of karmic handout from the Twenty20 gods: watch your pennies and ye shall prosper. They alone went under-budget at the first Mumbai auction, and it might just have galvanised them. Warne has been told so many times that he is leading a bunch of underdogs that his side seem doubly determined to nip at the big boys' heels.

The truth is he loves a challenge and the far-from-glittering squad he has been handed here are precisely that. His new team-mate Graeme Smith's jibe two years ago that Warne, playing under the less intuitive Ricky Ponting, was a "frustrated captain" may no longer apply. "Even a long break from the game doesn't seem to faze him," his opposite number Rahul Dravid said after the game, with a resigned smile.